“The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed.” William Gibson.
Don’t tell anyone but the future of work’s been here for decades. Mostly unnoticed and unremarked on.
You know, Teams and Zoom didn’t suddenly appear out of thin air because of the COVID lockdown. There was already a bunch of people using these platforms and the other technologies that are now common place.
In fact, working in a ‘hybrid’ fashion and in distributed teams has been pretty normal to a sizeable number of employees, which is why they transitioned to pandemic-induced ‘Working from Home’ with some ease.
Some of us where working in this way even before the internet. I became a ‘Road Warrior’ when I got my first laptop in 1990. I was only at my desk half the time, spending the rest of my week seeking out phone sockets in hotels, meeting rooms, offices and at home to plug in and pull my emails.
I was already working in global teams. With members across the US, UK and Europe, we mostly worked asynchronously over email. We spoke collectively using audio-conferencing and at quarterly in-person meet-ups. It was a bit clunky but it was effective.
The spread of this style of working was boosted by the internet, wifi and cheap laptops. Tech, sales and field engineering, consultants and freelancers embraced this mobile, flexible and responsive approach.
Distributed teams also spread to support ‘follow the sun’ and outsourced operations and the increasing collaboration between companies. In research and academia, teams have long spanned countries, organisations and individuals to assemble the best and most diverse talent.
The idea that we needed to assemble in an office to work together was out-of-date before COVID hit, it’s just that senior leaders were unaware or in denial about it. It was an illusion then. Now it’s just a fantasy.
Sometimes, the adoption of these ways of work has been unintentional, just the result of people finding ways to deal with the daily challenges they faced. They picked up the tools and adapted them, what you could call ‘accidental adoption’.
For example, I know someone who, before COVID, was remotely joining meetings from their desk even though the meeting was in the same building because they didn’t have time to get there AND go to the loo or grab lunch.
This was a fairly common practice in their company, so even when it looked like people were co-located and working ‘conventionally’, they were actually working in a ‘hybrid’ fashion.
Because all this is outside their visibility and their lived-experience, ‘Leaders’ see all sorts of problems that they try to fix with ‘Return To Office’ and ‘Mandated Days’ policies and the like. But they are corporate Don Quixote’s tilting at windmills, whilst their people are solving these imaginary problems and getting on with the work.
These ‘Leaders’ are still stuck in past but for a long time some of us have been living in the future.
And now it’s being widely distributed.